By Yadira Betances
---- — LOWELL — If students and administrators have their way, the use of tobacco products will be banned at UMass Lowell by next year.
“This is not a war on smokers or something that people feel is personally attacking them,” said Andrew Ladd of Andover, president of the Student Government Association at UMass Lowell. “What we’re trying to do is foster an environment that is healthy.”
During the Great American Smokeout on campus tomorrow, students are planning informational events and cessation and counseling programs, which will continue throughout November, which is Lung Cancer Awareness month.
“College is when most people are susceptible to take up the habit and it is sad to see,” said Ladd, a junior studying political science and criminal justice.
Currently, smoking is not allowed within 25 feet of any building on campus.
While a small number of students is against the ban, most students support it. The student-led petition asking for an outright ban has been signed by 2,000 people.
“I’m very optimistic about this,’’ said Ladd, a graduate of Andover High where smoking was banned. “We have the student support and the administration is in favor of the policy. It’s important to remember that we’re concerned about the whole university community, not just those people exposed to second-hand smoke.’’
Students leading the effort to make the campus smoke free are: Katie Burnett, a member of the American Cancer Society’s Colleges Against Cancer program; Amanda Robinson, chairwoman of Campus Life and Events; and Phil Geoffroy, a student trustee.
Burnett, a junior, and Robinson, a sophomore, both lost family members to cancer.
Robinson who is majoring in business and political science, was 13 when her grandmother died of lung cancer after smoking for 40 years.
“My mother lived in a house full of smokers and never smoked a cigarette,” Robinson said. “That was something that was reinforced at home.”
Robinson joined the student government in her freshmen year. This year, she and other leaders started the campaign to ban smoking on campus.
Diane Knight, executive director of Northern Essex Tobacco Free Partnership in Lawrence, said she will attend the Great American Smokeout tomorrow.
“What is exciting about this is that it’s being driven by the students and I want to support them,’’ Knight said. “I feel strongly that when restrictions are in place, it makes smokers want to try to quit.’’
UMass Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan supports the group.
“I applaud our students for taking action on an issue that is so important to all of us,’’ Meehan said in a prepared statement. “The use of cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco, as well as exposure to second-hand smoke, causes serious illness and premature death for hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.’’
The former congressman said he fought big tobacco companies because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and smokers are six times more likely to have a heart attack. He said the economic impact is in the trillions of dollars due to health-care costs and lost productivity from smoking-related illnesses.
Marc Hymovitz, director of government relations and advocacy for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, said he is encouraged to see UMass Lowell students stand up against tobacco companies.
“For too long, the tobacco industry has looked to young people as replacement customers,’’ he said. “What these students are doing will help prevent another tobacco-addicted generation.’’
The student leaders will formally approach the college administration with a proposal to enact a tobacco-free declaration on Dec. 2.
According to the American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Facts and Figures 2013,” lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women. However, lung cancer is the most preventable form of cancer death, experts say. Tobacco use accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 87 percent of lung cancer deaths.